To all my readers: If I happen to offend anyone with this editorial, this wasn’t my intention and any comments relating to this post will get a reply from myself.
If your child was working on a math problem and was having trouble figuring out the answer, would you:
A. Help your child work through the problem to determine the correct answer.
B. Tell them the answer
Of course it’s “A”. How does the child learn if the answer is just given over. Helping them with how to figure out a math equation will only benefit them when it really matters. Like the next math exam.
Let’s keep this scenario in the back of our minds as I get to the point of my editorial.
I belong to 8 different Facebook groups that relate to birds and birding. And I’m noticing something that’s really puzzling. With the advent of affordable digital cameras and Facebook are birders new to this hobby becoming lazy when it comes to identifying birds? Has it become too easy to take a photo of a bird, post it on Facebook and ask for ID help? Do birders new to the hobby carry a field guide with them, whether as a hard copy book or an APP?
Think about that for a few minutes.
Now granted I’ve been birding for a very long time, and even the name of this blog refers to a “Notebook”. But before Facebook and the ability to post photos from our digital cameras (if you could afford one), what we were left with was our respected Listserv for the given state we lived in. Info about rare birds, field trips and questions about birds had to be typed out and then read by others. If you were birding by yourself and saw a bird you couldn’t identify, you’d go to your field guide and try to find it using field markings, range maps, and the general habitat the bird was seen. And after that if you still couldn’t figure out which species you saw your only other outlet was to ask another birder or post your sighting on the Listserv with a description of the bird and hope someone could help you. The operative word here is “Help”.
Do we remember those days?
When you’re in the field birders on a whole will help anyone out with identifying a bird. However this is also the time to help the birder with future birds they may come across. We’re just passing along those pearls of wisdom, right? Nothing is more rewarding (other than spotting a rarity) than being able to ID a tough bird by looking at it’s field markings, and noticing the birds behavior. It’s the culmination of hard work on your part to become a more skilled birder.
Now if Facebook was around when I first started to bird, maybe things would be different. However some things remain a constant, we identify birds through their field marks. And the only way to do this is either ask someone or use a field guide. And what I’m seeing on Facebook is to just ask someone.
Resources that are available for the birder to help them identify birds are countless. Even Cornell Lab of Ornithology developed “Merlin” to help birders enter field marks into the APP, then the Merlin gives you some choices of birds it might be. Pretty easy. I tried it out when it first came out, and for a beginner it would be helpful.
However are new birders using all the available resources to ID a bird, or is it too easy to just post a picture and ask, because someone will tell me. Which leads me back to my math problem. Do we as birders try to help them make a positive ID by guiding them with our knowledge, or is it easier to just tell them?
Case in point. On a recent conversation I was having with a new birder on Facebook in regards to a 1st summer Orchard Oriole that she posted along with a pretty decent photo. She wanted someone to help ID the bird for her.
The first person to reply told her what it was. I replied with 2 questions. What was your first impression of the species and did you have a field guide? I think you know where I’m going with this. I just wanted to help someone out who’s new to birding to improve their skills. I wanted to start a conversation about field markings, where you saw the bird, etc.etc.etc.
Instead of getting a reply from the person who posted the photo, I get this response from someone different saying” What’s wrong with just helping her and answering the question”?
My response to this person was that I wanted to help her to try to figure out the species using field marks. And by doing this she’ll become a better birder. By just giving the answer we’re not really helping her. Wouldn’t you think this would be more rewarding? (Refer to my math question)
Then a totally different person replied with ” Be the kind of birder you want to be and let others be the kind they want to be. We each can decide what is most rewarding for ourselves”.
I never got a response from the original person.
I just dropped the thread, thinking by this time it was a hopeless cause to help.
This isn’t an isolated occurrence, everyday very common birds are being posted wanting ID help, and someone will give up the answer. And when I say common, I mean as common as a House Finch. Does this person not own a field guide and why not? They take photos of birds and joined a birding Facebook Group, I would assume they would own a field guide or have at least one on their phone.
But it’s not just the question from the new birder that bothers me the most, the fact that they’re coming across in their post as not even trying. No mention of what the bird looks like, coloration, field marks, size comparison to other birds. Where the bird was seen, or any other type of observation, let alone the mention of using a field guide. No, they want someone to ID the bird for them. And if you want to help, you get the “snarky” responses.
The instant gratification of the digital camera and Facebook responsiveness is killing the thought process that makes the skilled birder. Facebook can be a great tool, and I use it everyday. To teach someone face to face is totally different, however with so many users of Facebook out there and their need to “know right now” attitude, trying to teach someone using this kind of media can be difficult, but it can be done, only if people are willing to learn.
P.S. The sad truth is if I posted this editorial on this one particular Facebook page, I’d probably be kicked off, that would be after all the “snarky” replies.